Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Directed by Joe Johnston
Review by Dave Felts
This will be a somewhat difficult review to write; I watched The Wolfman about a week ago and I don't remember much about it, which, I suppose, is a review in and of itself.
I must have seen the original. I have fond memories of being firmly ensconced in a yellow bean bag chair in the basement on Saturday nights, while Creature Feature, hosted by Count Gore De Vol, flickered on my black and white television (channel 20). Surely the 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. version graced that small screen at one time or another. But if it did, the details have long since left my brain, so I can't speak to how well this new version cleaves to its 1941 progenitor.
Yet according to the Internets, this new version closely follows the plot of and retains the characters from the original. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is a well-known stage actor currently touring in England when he receives a surprise after-show visit from Gwen (Emily Blunt) his brother's fiance. Seems his brother has gone missing and Gwen implores him for help. Through this interaction we learn Lawrence has been estranged from his father and brother for decades. He even grew up in American, which conveniently explains his lack of an English accent.
Nevertheless, he dutifully returns to his ancestral home, a run-down mansion on an equally run-down estate, where he is greeted without much ado by his father (Anthony Hopkins). Turns out the trip was for naught. Lawrence learns from his father that his brother's body had been found. The savagely mutilated corpse was discovered not far from the estate in a roadside ditch.
Was it a bear? A wild dog? A mad man? What manner of beast could so rend a man! Lawrence is determined to find out. So is Abberline (Hugo Weaving) the investigator from Scotland Yard, who shows up and quickly airs his suspicions concerning Lawrence himself as being the culprit. After all, didn't Lawrence spend time in an institution when he was a child?
It's during his investigation that Lawrence runs afoul of the beast and is himself bitten. How unlucky is that? And now there are two wolfmen running around. But who could be the other? And what about poor Lawrence? Will he be able to contain the beast within?
When filmmakers remake a movie, they're faced with some fundamental questions. Should they simply retool the original with today's fancy special effects? Start from scratch with a complete reboot? Or keep the basic elements and come at it from a campy and nostalgic angle, like they did with The Mummy movies starring Brandon Fraser (which actually worked pretty well). I'm not sure which route they decided on here, and I don't think they were either.
The result is a muddled and uneven film, sometimes dark and brooding and sometimes Creature Feature. Del Toro never seems to get a handle on his character. As a result, his performance was flat and uninspired. He mostly came across as confused and simply a victim of events. Not surprisingly, once it's confirmed that the brother is dead, the potential for romance between Lawrence and Gwen is interjected. But there's no chemistry between the two, and Del Toro's two-dimensional and uninspiring character doesn't seem much of a catch.
Hopkins doesn't fare much better. I think he's supposed to be the mysterious patron of the Talbot clan, but he comes across more weird than mysterious. What was apparent, however, was the gulf between father and son, though we learn later there's good reason for their strained relationship.
I like Del Toro. I though he did a great job in Traffic and After the Fire. His doughy face is capable of expressing deep emotion. Not here though. Here he was just bland. How many expressions are there for melancholy and gloomy? Hopkins does get that Hannible Lector gleam in his eye from time to time, but it's not enough to lift the movie any appreciable amount.
So at the end I was left wondering what the film makers where going for. It wasn't scary, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't a mystery, or love story, a parable about the beast in man, or... well, it simply wasn't much of anything.